CableLabs wants to help forge unlicensed LTE, ensure it 'plays well' with Wi-Fi

CableLabs is exploring the impact of LTE technology in wireless access networks, including the potential for LTE Unlicensed (LTE-U) to replace or supplant Wi-Fi.

"LTE-U is still very early in its development. We have the opportunity to mold it into something that will help create better wireless access solutions for the future and play well with Wi-Fi," said Ian MacMillan, a principal architect at CableLabs, which is an R&D consortium funded by its cable industry member companies.

LTE as currently designed "won't play fair with other users in the unlicensed bands," whereas, "Wi-Fi is designed to be a cooperative network" that works with multiple access points owned by different people or companies all trying to use the same spectrum, MacMillan noted in a blog post on the CableLabs' website.

Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) publicly began championing LTE-U in November 2013. Executives at major telecom infrastructure suppliers, including Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC), have since rallied around the concept. However, opponents have argued vociferously that LTE does not belong on unlicensed frequencies.

"It's unlikely that LTE-U would actually be deployed by a mobile network operator without some form of fairness-mechanism, because the backlash from consumers and industries would be very undesirable," MacMillan wrote. "However, even with a fairness-mechanism, more network technologies would be contending for the same amount of unlicensed spectrum, which could mean your Wi-Fi connection is not as fast or responsive as it could be."

MacMillan cited statistics showing worldwide about 50 percent of Internet traffic relies upon Wi-Fi and about 3 percent relies upon mobile networks. He also touched on a point of raging debate across the wireless industry, which concerns whether Wi-Fi or LTE is the more efficient technology.

He noted that some people contend Wi-Fi is 30 times more efficient than LTE. "Today, because Wi-Fi is ubiquitous in consumer electronics and the home and office, more data with a growing percentage is transmitted over Wi-Fi than mobile networks by an order of magnitude, using less spectrum than is licensed to mobile operators," MacMillan wrote.

However, others contend the LTE protocol is three to five times more efficient than Wi-Fi when it comes to how data is transmitted, he said.

Numerous proposals around LTE-U concern using it in a carrier aggregation scenario, where a mobile operator might combine LTE on its licensed spectrum with LTE-U on unlicensed to gain more bandwidth. However, LTE-U Standalone has also been suggested as a direct Wi-Fi competitor, for operations with no licensed spectrum involved.

"LTE-U Standalone would require enhancement of the LTE protocols to allow it to work well in unlicensed bands, both to share the spectrum and manage interference from other RF technologies using the unlicensed bands," said MacMillan.

For more:
- see this CableLabs blog post

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